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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of Remembering WW1 Victoria Cross Heroes UK in Ukraine

10th November 2010

Why I wear a poppy

Several Ukrainian friends have asked me recently why I am wearing a small, red flower – a poppy – on my jacket lapel.

It’s because the United Kingdom together with other Commonwealth nations will commemorate Remembrance Day on November 11th. The poppy is the symbol of this day.

The practice of wearing a flower dates from the First World War, when battles in France and Belgium churned up the earth so much that long-dormant poppy seeds in the ground bloomed as never before. This spectacle inspired the Canadian soldier John McCrae to pen his famous poem ‘In Flanders Field’ in which the poppy, with its blood red colour, symbolises our war dead. Its opening lines are powerful:

‘In Flanders Field, the poppies grow,
Between the crosses, row on row.’

So the first reason I wear a poppy is to remember with gratitude the sacrifice of those who have died in war so that we may live in peace. People like Lieutenant Edwards who died in Khmelnytskyi in August 1917 and Private Rabey who died in Odesa in 1945.

Their graves remain in good condition in these cities today. I also remember the many members of the British Armed Forces who have died in what is today Ukraine during and just after the First World War but today have no known grave, such as Able Seaman Nicklen who died at Yalta in 1919. Their individual graves and memorials are today marked and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This remarkable organization looks after the last resting place of over 900,000 servicemen and women who lie in marked graves and over 700,000 monumental inscriptions to the missing. As Albert Schweitzer noted “the soldiers’ graves are the greatest preachers of peace”.

Grave of Lieutenant Edwards

I also wear a poppy to support the Poppy Appeal which raises funds for the Royal British Legion. This charity provides support to the millions who have served and are serving in our Armed Forces, and also to their families. The emphasis of this year’s Appeal is help for those who are serving or have served in Afghanistan. More details about how you can support this worthwhile cause in Kyiv can be found here.

So this November I again wear my poppy with pride and gratitude.

A link to photographs of last year’s Remembrance Day ceremony in Kyiv is here.

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.